KINGSTON, R.I.- December 3, 2018- Dining Services at the University of Rhode Island is working hard to feature sustainable, locally sourced fish by relying less on frozen fish from large distributors. Instead, it’s serving fish pulled right from Rhode Island waters and helping the marine ecosystem, too.
The Catch of the Month program was implemented in September 2017 when the department hired graduate assistant Jacob Albernaz to help design and promote the effort.
“Instead of relying on frozen fish that we get through bids from large distributors, we decided to look for fresher, cheaper fish that is better for the environment,” said Albernaz, a graduate of the class of 2017 and current master of business administration student. “Since we are the Ocean State, we focus on sourcing local, specific fish that are notably underutilized.”
Albernaz explained that fishing for underutilized fish helps the local environment by alleviating pressure on species that are in danger because of overfishing. Dining Services has included bluefish, scup, John Dory, monkfish and skate in its most recent Catch of the Month offerings.
“The fish we serve can hold a variety of tastes depending on the species that is being served. These tastes include it being buttery, oily or juicy, or as having that fresh seafood taste,” explained Albernaz. “The fish being cooked will often soak up the tastes of the other ingredients that make up the meal. These ingredients are usually made with produce from local farms or the URI Agronomy farm. Once complete, the texture of the meat is often flaky, light, white and delicious.”
The department works closely with the Narragansett Bay Lobster Co., Tony’s Wholesale Seafood and Clipper Seafood which catch, fillet, clean and deliver local, sustainably sourced fish for and to URI students, faculty, and visitors. The local seafood is offered at Mainfare in Hope Commons and Butterfield Dining Halls.
“The Catch of the Month program is beneficial for local fishermen since we are able to schedule with them and pay them a slight premium to target the fish we need for that month’s program,” said Mark Pirri, Seafood Consultant at Tony’s Seafood. “Anytime you pull product locally instead of imported species, you are helping the local economy in some way shape or form. Long term, we are helping to introduce local species to students who otherwise would not be consuming these items which potentially creates a customer for these locally fished items. For example, John Dory, a very unknown species, is a bycatch of Rhode Island’s huge squid fishery. The more exposure this fish gets, the more it can become a part of people’s consumption habits. If we create more of a demand, it increases the value and the boats will potentially be able to be paid more for this bycatch.”
Albernaz earned his undergraduate degree in supply chain management from URI’s College of Business. After working for five years as a caterer with URI Dining Services, he welcomed the opportunity to deepen his connection with the Ocean State since as a Tiverton native, he grew up near the water.
“Supply chain is often thought of globally but can be very local when you think about the food industry,” said Albernaz. “It is important to focus on not shipping food across the world and instead focus on agriculture and seafood sourced locally to keep miles down and food fresher. This work is both beneficial and meaningful when thought of on the local level.”
Local and sustainable sourcing is beneficial from an economic, social and environmental standpoint, said Albernaz. Economically, this project is good for Rhode Island because it keeps dollars in the state. Socially, it helps provide more work for local fisherman year round furthering their sense of purpose. Environmentally, the fish are caught sustainably and travel a shorter distance before arriving at their destination.
“In our department, we feel that dining should not only be a feast for the senses, but also a feast for the mind,” said Pierre St-Germain, the director of Dining and Retail Services. “Exposing our student body to delicious recipes utilizing under appreciated fish, informing them about local fisheries and the processes of bringing these fresh catch meals to campus is just part of how we can help create a more holistic dining experience.”
This is not Dining Service’s first effort toward a more sustainable URI. In 2017, the department established a relationship with a local vendor for compost waste, which has allowed the University to divert a large amount of food waste from landfills. The vendor turns the waste into beneficial compost for local farmers, gardeners and Rhode Islanders.
Other sustainable efforts have included providing fresh, local produce in the dining halls through a partnership with Roch’s Fresh Produce.
Olivia Ross, an intern in the Marketing and Communications Department at URI and public relations major, wrote this press release.